The chlorofluorocarbon Cfc-12 (freon), long banned from refrigerators and air conditioners in developed countries for allegedly depleting the ozone layer, is being smuggled from China into Japan in large volumes for use in car air conditioners, according to Kyodo News.

Citing customs authorities and industry sources, Kyodo News said that more than 100,000 bottles of smuggled CFC-12, or dichlorodifluoromethane, have been sold to Japanese car repair shops, prompting the authorities to conduct investigations.

Kyodo News said that customs authorities and vehicle parts sellers believe several dozen to 1,000 cases, each containing 30 CFC-12 bottles, have been traded in Japan since around last year. Several suspected smuggling channels in eastern, central and western Japan are being investigated.

Japan banned domestic production and import of CFC-12 at the end of 1995, Kyodo News said, and local vehicle makers stopped using CFC-12 for air conditioning in newly produced vehicles by 1994, but the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry estimates some 15 million vehicles still use the substance as refrigerant.

CFC-12 prices have rocketed as the substance has become harder to buy. A CFC bottle used to trade at several hundred yen but this summer it has fetched up to 5,000 yen in Tokyo and its vicinity, Kyodo News said, citing industry sources.

A 1987 international protocol allows developing countries to introduce regulations governing ozone-depleting substances some 10 years after industrialised countries due to technical and economic reasons, Kyodo News said, adding that China, which must eradicate CFC-12 by 2010, produced 50,000 tons in 1997, accounting for around a third of the world’s total output.

Smuggled CFC-12 from China has been found in several locations in Japan and two used car company officials were recently prosecuted for selling freon shipped in from Thailand, the Kyodo News report said.

To view related research reports, please follow the links below:-

World automotive components: Market prospects to 2005

Automotive country report: Japan